Educator survey shows struggles with time, new staff support in Eagle County schools
Statewide survey also provides insights on pandemic impacts and educator retention
Throughout the current school year, educators, school districts and students have faced numerous challenges as a result of the ongoing impacts of the pandemic, statewide school financing and more. Only time — and lots of data — will show how the past few years has impacted the education system as whole.
The results from a recent statewide survey of educators helps show educators’ sentiment on topics like pandemic impacts on students and themselves as well as on the overall performance of the school district and its schools.
Every two years, the Colorado Department of Education surveys educators from across the state with the Teaching and Learning Conditions in Colorado survey.
The survey asks educators to rank its school and district across 11 categories. These include things like new staff training and support, school leadership, managing student conflict, professional development, student and staff well-being, and more.
For Eagle County Schools, the results of the 2022 survey were largely positive. At the April 27 Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Philip Qualman highlighted the fact that the district scored an overall 3% more favorably that the state and was above average in nine out of 11 categories surveyed.
The results overall offer “great feedback for us to grow from,” he said.
The results offered two main areas of improvement for the district: more time for educators as well as new staff support, resources and training. Not only that, but the results offered insight into how educators perceived the pandemic impacts as well as how the district may be impacted by the nation-wide educator resignation.
Eagle County had 461 individuals participate in the survey. According to the Colorado Department of Education, this represents 63.5% of the district. Those surveyed included teachers as 81% of the respondents, school leaders as 2.8%, education support professionals as 10% and special service providers as 5.9%.
Leaving the profession
In Colorado and across the country, large numbers of educators are leaving the profession.
A report last fall from the Colorado Education Association found that 67% of the association members surveyed in October were considering leaving the profession in the near future. This was a 27% increase from the previous year.
Results from the Teaching and Learning Conditions in Colorado survey indicate that a much smaller percentage of educators are planning to leave after this spring. While not a comprehensive poll of all educators, the survey shows that 6.8% of statewide respondents were planning to leave education, 3.8% reported planning to work in their current role at a different school, 3.6% at a different district, and 3.5% reported planning to work in education in a non-administrative, non-teaching role.
In comparison, 5.9% of respondents (or 26 staff members) in the Eagle County School District reported that they were leaving education altogether. Further, 4.1% or 18 respondents plan to maintain their role at a different school, 3% or 13 plan to continue in a different district and 1.6% plan to continue working in a different non-administrative, non-teaching education role.
These numbers are slightly higher than the 2020 report of the same results in the local district. In 2020, only 3.5% of respondents (11 staff members) district reported that they were leaving education altogether.
Over the past nine school years, Eagle County Schools has averaged a 15.02% turnover rate for teachers, hitting 15.1% for teachers last school year.
Between the 2020-2021 school year and the 2021-2022 school year, the district’s overall turnover rate was 19.8% — 16% for teachers. The district saw the highest turnover rate for support staff and paraprofessionals, with rates of 33.3% and 32.1% respectively. This is according to data from the Colorado Department of Education.
According to the 2022 Teaching and Learning Conditions survey, educators reported that school leadership, salary and school staff (in that order) were the primary factors that affect decisions on whether or not to stay in their current role.
The survey did ask questions on one of these three factors (school leadership), the results of which were largely positive in the district.
Overall, Eagle County Schools had an average favorability of 84% around school leadership. In this category, respondents were asked about whether they felt they were led by an effective team; whether they shared a student-focused vision with staff; whether they felt respected; and more. On all these, 78% or more of respondents reported that they strongly agreed or agreed with these sentiments.
On salary, while the survey did not directly address this particular factor, it is an area that Eagle County Schools and the Eagle County Education Association — which represents 43% of teachers in the district — have been working to address.
Last fall, the base salary for certified staff was increased to $45,000. While the association has pushed for it to reach to $50,000m the negotiations team has compromised to a number somewhere between the two. The district’s board of education and the association’s membership are expected to vote on this new agreement in the next few weeks.
While the survey does not directly address school staff, 92% of respondents did report that they would recommend their school as a good place to work.
Needing more time
At the April 27 school board meeting, Qualman identified that “time” was one of the areas of improvement for the district from the survey results. Overall, the 55% of respondents felt favorably about the availability of and use of time. While this was 2% lower than the statewide average, it was a 3% increase from 2020 and an 8% increase from 2018.
Specifically, in 2022 only 46% of Eagle County Schools respondents reported having enough time to analyze and respond to student assessment data; only 46% felt new resources and curriculum were given enough time to determine effectiveness; 55% said they had enough time to support students’ social-emotional needs; and 56% said that they had enough time for professional learning.
This issue of time also seems to be exacerbated at both Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley High Schools, where only 34% and 37%, respectively, of respondents responded favorably about the availability of and use of time.
While shown in the results, time has also been one of the main concerns that district leadership and teacher’s union representatives have been working to address in negotiations. In these negotiations, teacher union representatives reported that many teachers said they lacked the time to perform the amount of duties that fall upon them.
In the final agreement reached — which still faces votes of approval to be ratified — this issue of time was addressed in several ways. This included shifting every fourth professional learning community day to a teacher planning day; adding contract days including a total of 16 hours that teachers can use throughout the year as extra time to get their work done; and more.
New staff support
The other area that the survey identified as an area for improvement was around the available support for new staff. These questions were only asked of teachers and support staff that had been at the district for one to three years. In Eagle County, this group accounted for 42.3% of its overall respondents.
Overall, in Eagle County, 63% of new staff respondents responded favorably about new staff supports. This was 10% lower than the statewide average. This average, while actually 1% higher from the overall favorability in Eagle County in 2020, represents a 9% decrease from the 2018 results.
The survey also showed significant variability between schools on the new staff supports offered. While some schools had 100% overall favorability (Red Sandstone and Edwards Elementary), others were as low as 48%.
Across the district’s results in 2022, there were two main areas where new teachers said that either limited or no support at all was offered: professional support (things like career advice and networking) and evaluative support (formative evaluation feedback, advice related to evaluation expectations). In these two areas, 56% and 58%, respectively, of respondents reported limited or no support.
At the April board meeting, Qualman said district and school leadership would be connecting with new teachers at the end of the year to “find out what we can do to better support them.”
However, 77% of staff respondents reported getting a “moderate extent” or “great extent” of support as a new staff member. Additionally, 72% reported getting classroom and job instruction support from their mentors.
The survey also asked the educators to indicate their level of concern on a number of personal, student impacts as a result of the pandemic. Respondents were only asked about the impacts during the most recent school year, not throughout the past three school years that have been impacted.
In ranking their concern for students, Eagle County respondents reported feeling the most concern for a decrease in student emotional well-being (health, happiness, and comfort); increases in learning gaps; and insufficient at-home learning support. On these three factors, 77%, 82% and 82% (respectively) reported feeling either extremely, moderately or somewhat concerned.
Additionally, Eagle County respondents reported a few ways the pandemic has impacted their ability to do certain aspects of their jobs this school year. 63.6% reported that it impacted their ability to have a predictable daily routine; 80% reported that it impacted student engagement; 69% reported that having to enforce public health and safety protocols impacted their ability to do their job.
On the flip side, the survey also questioned educators on not only their comfortability and the availability of supports to address students’ mental health and social-emotional needs.
For example, on a personal level, 79% responded that they felt comfortable discussing mental health with students — though only 44% said they felt comfortable discussing suicide. Plus, 92% reported that they had access to adequate supports if they have concerns about students’ mental health.
And, on the topic of mental health and well-being supports for staff, the results were also positive in the district: 78% of respondents said they would have access to the needed support if they were concerned about their own mental health. However, even if supports exist, only 63% said they were currently getting adequate social emotional support for themselves this year.
While Qualman reported being “pleased with the results,” overall, the survey results will serve as a valuable resource for moving forward, addressing the areas of improvement as well as ensuring its strengths continue.
Reporter Ali Longwell can be reached at email@example.com.